Thursday, July 30, 2009

Qionglai Noodles in Soup

Walking by, you notice several signs that Dai Family Qionglai Style Soup Noodles (代氏邛崃清汤面) is a good place to eat: people of various ages and professions fill the tables; another storefront on the same street has been taken over as an overflow dining room; an unrelated restaurant has opened up nearby serving the same type of food. (This last trick is really annoying; I often see the newcomer first and end up going into the wrong restaurant.) This type of success with this simple of a menu must mean they are doing something very right.

Plain broth soup noodles (清汤面), the house specialty, in a very generous one liang serving. Chicken pieces on top, surprisingly not bony. The broth was really amazing and fresh tasting. A new favourite, and really makes me want to visit Qionglai.

They were charging Y2 for a bowl of cabbage, which I thought was a major gouge. When I got the vegetable, I understood. It's a good sized serving, floating in the same amazing soup.

I wanted to sample a spicy dish here so asked for a one liang serving of su jiao noodles (素椒面). (Really don't get the name - 'plain pepper noodles'?) This is a standard dry mixed noodle with oil and seasonings on the bottom and meat on the top, and was spicy enough to make me break a sweat. The really neat thing was that the meat mixture had some crunch, even after being stirred up.

One part of their very long sign out front:

代氏邛崃清汤面 Address: 武侯区情融路2-3号

Outside the west first section of the second ring.

Doughnuts from Dico's

Sugar laced rings of deep fried dough are something many foreigners sorely miss while living in China, and Dico's was the last place I expected to offer them. Their ' duonazi' (多纳滋), very small cake style doughnuts, have been available for the past couple of weeks. The plain ones are not too bad, but the chocolate covered ones use the sad trick of colouring some substance brown and calling it 'chocolate' - there's very little actual chocolate flavour. Most Chengdu 糖油果子 (fried sticky rice balls with sesame) taste much better.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Hakka Style Bean Starch Noodles

"This is called bing fenr", said the mother to her little girl beside me, who was spooning up a bowl of sweet jelly and syrup. We were on Shuwa Street downtown, inside a narrow shop that sells various varieties of cool summer snacks. I was glad of the mother's reminder since I have a tough time keeping the names straight.

冰粉 (bīng fĕn), with a few cubes of watermelon on top:

Hakka style liang fen, or cool bean starch noodles, are called 伤心凉粉 shāngxīn liángfĕn, meaning 'sad noodles'. It makes for some interesting Chinglish on shop signs.

凉粉, liángfĕn; seasoned with vinegar, chili oil, peanuts, scallions, etc:

This was one unusual offering in the shop - a kind of sticky rice pancake. I expected it to be cold but it was heated piping hot before being sprinkled with sesame seeds and doused in syrup. I got over my disappointment since it was delicious. It's called 锅魁 guōkuí but was very different from any guo kui I'd previously encountered:

The place is always very busy. You are almost guaranteed to be sharing a table with someone. I am looking forward to going back for their 凉面 liángmiàn - wheat noodles tossed with seasonings, very hot; and for the 凉糕 liánggāo - smooth, cool rice flour based pudding, also doused in syrup. It's a good place to come for a treat after eating chuan chuan. Most snacks are Y3-Y5.


Address: South Shuwa Street #34 (暑袜南街34号) Shuwa street is between Tianfu Square and Chunxi Road.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

The Chopping Block

A guy resurfaces a kitchen chopping block on the sidewalk while a staff member looks on. (I have to say, this didn't smell very good.)

Friday, July 24, 2009

Chuan Chuan on Shuwa Street

Shuwa Street is a narrow strip between Tianfu Square and Chunxi Road downtown. I used to love coming here because the alleys were full of street vendors. The street vendors are gone but there are now five or six little stores on the south section selling chuan chuan ( 串串).

Chuan Chuan is related to hot pot, but everything is on a skewer and the broth is always the same - numbing and spicy red. You pick out what you want and the servers cook it for you in one common pot. When you are finished they count up the number of skewers and you pay according to what you ate.

Fish cakes, krab, squid, tripe, bamboo shoot, pumpkin, chicken gizzard, kong xin cai, lotus root, enoki mushroom, cauliflower, pressed tofu, dried tofu, seaweed, lily buds, and wood ear mushroom were all on offer. (Note, if you feel like trying the lily buds, beware if they are opening like this. If they have pollen they are a little poisonous.)

My skewers cooking:

The server mixed up a you die - sesame oil, more hot pepper, green onions, a little garlic, and some msg.

I got a cooling bowl of congee (稀饭) to eat with it. You can see the skewers piled up behind the tray.

It tasted fine - I would have enjoyed a bit more Sichuan pepper ma, but that's just me. Each skewer is 2 mao each (1/5 of one yuan) but since they stick just a bite of food on each one it can add up to a lot. I also think the wily server inflated the stick count a bit. Storefront:

South Shuwa Street, I think it is #54. (暑袜南街 54 号) One of several chuan chuan places on the same block.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Tonkatsu Wako

The restaurant floor of Isetan department store is an air conditioned haven from the heat and crowds of Chun Xi road on a summer weekend. There is a Thai place, a Japanese buffet, a cha can ting (surprise), and a tonkatsu place. I walked to each restaurant looking at menus and chatting with the host staff before picking Tonkatsu Wako, which specializes in Japanese breaded fried pork cutlets in a variety of preparations. The menu here, with its set meals and snacks, is very suited to the solo diner and shopper.

The server, who also spoke Japanese, did a good job explaining the menu and making recommendations after I asked for help. (I am putting an English menu label on this post, but it's mostly romanized Japanese). The host brought me some English magazines to read while I waited for my order, and I noticed him chatting in Japanese with a couple of young guys while they looked at map of the city. When my order arrived, the server also helped me figure out which seasonings to use with which food and how to eat it. Teapot and mug:

The panko breaded pork cutlet had decent flavour but was quite thick (not pounded/tenderized) and should have been fried a little hotter; it was greasy. The accompanying pile of cabbage was fresh and crunchy, but a little too wet. The miso soup had a lot of tiny clams at the bottom, which was a treat. There was a little dish of tonkatsu sauce and mustard to mix in for heat and some curious Japanese pickles. The food here is good and is a nice change of pace from regular Sichuanese food but doesn't meet the standards of the service and decor.

Address: Tonkatsu Wako, 7th floor of Isetan department store, Chun Xi rd

True Heart Steamed Buns

People can get cranky if they can't get what they want in the morning. The server at this baozi joint, noting my disappointment at the lack of ya cai buns(芽菜包子), suggested shiitake mushroom filling instead (香菇包子) and didn't charge me for them. Morning lineup:

Steamed buns are one of those magic snacks that can always fill you up until the next meal. Finding good ones can be tough though. The most common problem is they are too greasy, with stains leaking through the buns. The stuffing can be off (or burned) as well. They come in large size, with a higher filling/bun ratio, or these little ones. Ya cai (a sweetish pickled vegetable) mixed with ground pork is my favourite and default order, though there are several sweet and savoury options as well as vegetable buns (素菜包子). These mushroom and pork stuffed buns were fantastic, though a little greasy. I didn't miss the ya cai that much. Y1 worth of steamed buns:

Address: #62 Fang Cao Dong Jie 芳草东街 62 号

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Wenshu Temple Vegetarian Restaurant

This is the oldest and best known vegetarian restaurant in Chengdu.


The menu is very unique; each dish has both name and description translated into English. The description gives more detail on the ingredients and focuses on the meat substitutes. It's a pretty interesting document for those who are interested in Chinese vegetarian cooking. Most tables are occupied over lunch and the servers work hard to run orders and clear tables. At times diners need to be pretty assertive to get their attention.

We asked for the Sichuan Monkey Head mushrooms, which were very good. The large, round, fuzzy mushrooms had a great texture and the cilantro and garlic were a familiar complement to the numbing and spicy red oil. (I am too much of a laowai to understand why you would cook mushrooms in spice that overwhelms their flavour though.) This generous bowl turned the heads of other customers as it approached our table.

Shumai dumplings. Dumpling dough stuffed with sticky rice can be bland, but these were surprisingly good:

Cool bowl of tapioca to finish:

The interior is airy and light, and there is some outdoor seating as well. However, the dining room has a used tableware station where they have bus pans for dumping leftovers. It's a little off-putting if you happen to be sitting at one of the tables nearby.

Location: inside Wenshu Temple courtyard (need to pay the Y5 to get in).

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Summer Snacks at Ajisen Ramen

Ajisen Ramen is a chain that specializes in Japanese ramen. They also have a sushi menu and a good selection of cool drinks and desserts. Ajisen was the first restaurant I was ever taken to in Chengdu, and I used to go quite often while I was still new to the city. There are Ajisen Ramen branches everywhere, though a few are pirated versions. I stopped in at the South Auchan branch lately and noticed they have a new menu with some interesting items. I usually order noodles but since the weather was hot I asked for a tofu salad and a seaweed salad:

Their tofu salad is cool, smooth, and refreshing. It is also one of the least expensive items on the menu, though didn't come with the tuna flakes as pictured. The seaweed salad had great flavours, a little sweet and tangy with some nutty sesame seeds and hot peppers.

This plate of yellow croaker chunks made me wish for a bun to stuff with the fried fish, cabbage, and mayonnaise. It would have made a perfect sandwich.

Service at Ajisen is usually excellent but it was a bit scatty this time. You had to be aggressive to flag the servers down. Their signature sumo mural:

Locations: Various. South Auchan shopping complex, Bailian Tianfu Mall, Ba Bao Street, etc. Chinese name: 味千拉面

Website (Chinese version)

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Hollywood Hong Kong Style Cafe

South of the second ring near the Great World Carrefour there are a few blocks where there seem to be more Cantonese than Sichuanese restaurants. There is higher end Cantonese, dim sum and a few of the Hong Kong style cafes (or cha can ting, 茶餐厅) that serve diner style English/Cantonese fusion. However, this far from Hong Kong the formula goes a little off and a 'cha can ting' is just as likely to be an upscale Cantonese or seafood restaurant, or a high end teahouse that serves non-local snacks.

Hollywood Hong Kong Style Cafe is the first cha can ting in Chengdu I've tried that I've liked enough to want to go back. The sit down menu is in English and traditional Chinese characters, but their takeout menu is in simplified Chinese. They have a long list of drinks (including Hong Kong iced tea and coffee), sandwiches (including toast and French toast), roast goose, cha siu, congee for Y10 a bowl, a huge selection of stuff over rice dishes, a few kinds of Japanese ramen, and Thai curries over rice. Iced coffee and a bowl of wonton noodles:

The coffee was a treat, just the right sweetness, and the wonton noodles were very good though not quite the standard you'd expect in Hong Kong. I saw a couple plates of fluffy shrimp scrambled eggs (滑蛋虾仁) float by and a few orders of beef hor fun (牛肉何粉), both things I want to try when I return. I also really want to go back for their breakfast.

Address: 好莱坞港式茶餐厅 紫竹东路 8 号 (近 大世界家乐福)

Thursday, July 2, 2009

宜人快餐 -Pleasing Quick Meals

This 'quick meal' shop in a flimsy looking building on Fang Cao Street displays their specialty with a large stack of little steamer baskets in the front window. Each basket holds a serving of beef and rice meal steamed together (粉蒸牛肉). They season the beef and rice meal with raw garlic, red oil, and cilantro, and it melts in your mouth. They also offer a short but typical quick meal menu that covers several noodle dishes, a few fried rice selections, and 'stuff on rice' (gai jiao fan) plates. Steam baskets:

Today I walked in shortly before noon, and though there were only a couple of people eating the staff was clearly primed for a rush. Customers were greeted with, "Dian sazi?", meaning, "What's your order?" as soon as they stepped in. I felt like I was breaking the rhythm by sitting down and looking at the menu board for a few seconds before requesting a bowl of crisp-seasoned noodles (脆绍面):

These noodles usually have dried red pepper flakes in the topping and are much spicier than other styles of dry mixed noodles. This version was on the mild side, but was very good. The two liang serving was very generous. I would order one liang next time. Eat in customers are served a bowl of cooking water to drink. I've received plain noodle water at this place before, but this time I ended up with a weak tomato broth which was the most perfect thing to drink with the rich and spicy noodles. I also love the tomato egg noodles (蕃茄鸡蛋面) here; they cook the egg to order so you get it crackling hot.

Customers using the outside rice pot wash basin to clean up before eating:

They do quite a bit of takeout and delivery business. The yuxiang shredded pork fried rice (鱼香肉丝炒饭) I had delivered one night tasted great, had a very good stuff/rice ratio and wasn't greasy at all.

Address: 宜人快餐 芳草街45-3号

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

New Peter's near Guanghua Village

The western part of Chengdu has a new option for people who want a western style toilet available where they eat - our third Peter's Tex-Mex. This one is on the second floor of a huge shopping complex anchored by a newly opened Ren Ren Le, opposite the south gate of SWUFE. It is smaller and more intimate than the other two Peter's, and the service feels much better here than at the Peter's on Kehua North Road. They have the same great half-off dessert deal after eight p.m. As we left, around nine thirty, quite a few people were coming in for dessert and coffee.

The food at Peter's is usually decent, though they definitely have off days and portions can seem tiny to those used to American-style servings. The best sections of the menu are the Tex-Mex dinners, appetizers, and sandwiches.(Always pay the extra for waffle fries.) The entree section, where you get a main with a choice of three sides, is both higher priced and lower quality than the previous and very skippable. (Y65 for meatloaf? Pass, thanks.) They serve breakfast all day. Desserts are on par with a good diner and taste just, well, real. Foreign friends who live in smaller cities beg to eat here when they visit Chengdu, not because it is so delicious but because it is so not Chinese.

Location: 彼得西餐 光华村南街 50号 新光华广场二楼 Few minutes' walk outside the west second ring on the next street north of Carrefour.